Sunday, 8 October 2017

Dunstaffnage Visit 1

Hi everyone,
We have just returned from a long weekend visiting Zen Again.  On Wednesday night we travelled north from London to Glasgow on the Caledonian Sleeper.  On Thursday morning we continued by coach to Dunstaffnage.

Before leaving Zen Again last month we prepared her for haul-out and de-rigging.  When we arrived she was ashore with the rig neatly laid out alongside.

Zen Again ashore

Rig awaiting work
We spent Thursday afternoon installing a replacement for our old Raymarine ST40 log/depth instrument.  We installed an Airmar DST800 "triducer" which measures boat speed, water depth and water temperature.  Raymarine, Garmin and Simrad all appear to use this unit which can be bought with an NMEA2000 interface.

The yard staff had already removed the old transducers from the hull.  We removed the old ST40 display and the wiring to the old transducers, then fed through the cable from the DST800 and connected it into our NMEA2000 network.

Next we removed our very old Garmin GPSmap450 from the cockpit and replaced it with the newer Garmin GPSmap451 from the navstation.  Rearranging the cabling took a little while but this eliminated SeaTalk and NMEA0183 from everywhere except the autopilots.  And we were left with a fully functioning NMEA2000 network connecting AIS, triducer, chart plotter and VHF.  Sooooo much neater than NMEA0183!!!

Setting up the GPSmap451 to display boat speed, water depth, COG and SOG was easy.  That will be our main cockpit display instrument.  We'll be chart plotting on our iPads using our Vesper XB8000 AIS's WiFi hotspot.  The AIS is now the heart of our electronics system with NMEA2000 and WiFi feeding and distributing data.  Simple and effective.

View of Oban from the northern end of the harbour
We were very pleased with sorting out the electronics in a single afternoon.  We took a taxi into Oban where we checked-in to Corran House, our accommodation for the weekend.  Below the hostel is a nice cosy pub Markie Dan's.  Highly recommended and I especially enjoyed their Crofter's Platter (a Scottish Ploughmans').

Crofer's Platter
On Friday morning we took the bus to the marina.  We stopped for a minute in the marina office and while there a DHL delivery man arrived with our new heater.  Amazing coincidence.  We spent the day installing our Dickinson P9000 heater.

The simplest part was mounting the heater itself at the forward end of the saloon on the port side.  This located it under the hole in the coachroof once used for the chimney of a solid fuel heater - when the boat was Japanese and named Shirahae.  Since then there has been a mushroom vent filling the hole.  Back in 2011 while in Darwin we replaced the headlining and the new headliner had no hole for a chimney.

To fit the chimney we had to take down the Laminex headliner and cut the hole for the chimney.  Then back up with the headliner and fit the P9000's flue cap.  Finally we offered up the chimney pipe and found it was exactly the right length.  More happy coincidence!

Dickinson Heater showing chimney 
Dickinson Heater detail
We had previously met with the gas fitter who will extend our gas system to supply the heater.  Hopefully that will be done in time for our next visit when it will be considerably colder.  After a full day working aboard we returned to the hostel and had a quiet evening with a fish and chips take-away dinner.

We spent Saturday morning tidying up the boat and making her ready for winter.  The yard mechanic had winterised the engine when Zen Again was hauled out.  We went through the boat making sure all clothes, towels etc were stowed in sealed boxes or bags, all five low-power electric "tube" heaters were safely placed and working, and all tools oiled and stowed.

View of Oban from the ferry dock
View of Oban from southern end of the harbour
It was great spending a few short days on Zen Again.  And great to get so many jobs done.  We enjoyed exploring central Oban too.  On Saturday evening we took the coach south to Glasgow, stayed in an airport hotel overnight then flew south to Heathrow on Sunday morning.

Preparations for replacement of our standing rigging and main furler are now in place with Owen Sails.  They will also be tidying up our sails and boombag over the winter.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Readying for Winter at Dunstaffnage Marina

Hi everyone,
We have spent the last two days preparing Zen Again for her winter stay ashore at Dunstaffnage Marina.  Here are the items ticked off the to-do list:
  • Cleaned below decks
  • Cleaned and aired cockpit lockers
  • Emptied water from the void below the chain locker
  • Derigged, dried and stowed jib, staysail and mainsail
  • Derigged and stowed the boom and rodkicker
  • Cleaned, dried and stowed running rigging
  • Removed and stowed over a dozen blocks from toe rails, boom and mast foot
  • Stowed anchor below
  • Stowed outboard below
  • Stowed side dodgers below
  • Disconnected electrical cables and antenna feeds at base of mast

Zen Again ready for haul-out
Boom stowed
At the marina itself we have arranged for the boat to be lifted out, derigged and the engine winterised this month.  She will stay ashore until April.

We arranged for a gas fitter to visit us this afternoon.  We hope to extend our system to fit a heater (probably a Dickinson P9000).

We also arranged for Owen Sails to inspect our sails and store them over winter.  We hope they will also be able to replace our standing rigging and do various other rigging jobs.

Our depth sounder has been misbehaving over the last two weeks.  The Raymarine ST40 unit is very old.  One of our two old Garmin chartplotters is also misbehaving.  We'll be thinking about replacement and how best to optimise our instrumentation over the next month or two.

At Dunstaffnage we've enjoyed two great meals at The Wide Mouthed Frog hotel restaurant.  We may stay there when we visit.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Western Caledonian Canal and Beyond

Hi everyone,
Zen Again is safely berthed in Dunstaffnage Marina near Oban.  This will be Zen Again's winter home this year.

On Tuesday we motored from Laggan Locks to Banavie on the Caledonian Canal.  This involved travelling down Loch Lochy and then through several miles of canal.  Both were very scenic.  Banavie is at the top of Neptune's Staircase - a flight of eight locks down to sea level.  The weather was showery with occasional sunny spells.  While the rain was very chilly the sun was very warm indeed.  And the colours ashore when the sun came out were amazing.

View to NE from Laggan Locks
Laggan Lock
Loch Lochy 
Loch Lochy
At the southern end of Loch Lochy lies Gairlochy which is a very pretty spot.  We had to wait there for an hour while the lock keeper was on her lunch break.

Waiting for the lock at Gairlochy
While waiting Ocean Spirit of Moray arrived too.  We had been near them in Inverness Marina and it was good to see them again.  They are owned by the public school (ie private!) Gordonstoun but had a set of students from a state school aboard for a sailing adventure.

Company in Gairlochy Lock
The canal between Gairlochy and Banavie
Ben Nevis to port 
Alongside at top of Neptune's Staircase
On Wednesday morning we were up and in the lock at 0800 to begin the 90 minute descent.  Going down in locks is much easier since the water leaves the chamber which is more or less turbulence-free.
Corpach Sea Lock
We returned to sea water at Corpach Sea Lock and headed down Loch Linnhe.  Perhaps we should have sailed but the prospect of two full days to prepare Zen Again for the winter took precedence.
Loch Linnhe
Approaching Corran Narrows
A few "light showers"
We arrived at Dunstaffnage Marina at 1600.  Although our holiday has felt like a delivery at times we really enjoyed the 3 day sail to Inverness and the Caledonian Canal was fantastic.

We spent today preparing Zen Again for the winter.  More on that in tomorrow's post!

Monday, 28 August 2017

Eastern Caledonian Canal

Hi everyone,
Day two in the canal saw us transit Loch Ness and along the canal from Fort Augustus to Kytra Lock. Sadly it was overcast for much of the day but the rain held off until evening.

After passing through Dochgarroch Lock we rafted alongside sv Taipan to show them Zen Again and share a cuppa.  Great to see them again.

From the lock we motored SW into Loch Ness.  There was a 20 knot wind blowing straight down the loch.  Tacking for the 20nm didn't look attractive so the donk did the work.  We went close past Urquhart Castle and admired the scenery which is spectacular even without much sunshine.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
Loch Ness
Loch Ness
Fort Augustus is a pretty small town at the SW end of Loch Ness.  We lay alongside a pontoon for 20 minutes while waiting for the swing bridge.  After the swing bridge there is another flight of locks which lift boats almost to the level of Loch Oiche.  This flight is clearly a major tourist attraction with lots of people videoing our every move as we ascended from lock to lock.

Approaching Fort Augustus
In flight at Fort Augustus
Pretty buildings in Fort Augustus
From Fort Augustus we pushed on to Kyra Lock, about halfway to Loch Oich.  We lay alongside the pontoon just short of the lock as the gradually weather deteriorated.  The canal each side of Loch Oich is very pretty, as is the lock area itself.  Overnight it was quite windy and rainy.

Fort Augustus Reach
Zen Again at Kytra Lock
Day three in the canal saw us move further SW, transiting Loch Oich and Laggan Avenue to Laggan Lock.  The weather was distinctly inclement with steady cold rain and strong SW winds.

Rainy Loch Oich
Laggan Swing Bridge
Even in this weather Loch Oich was very pretty indeed.  Indeed the weather may have added to the atmosphere.  On arrival at Laggan Lock we were told the wind was blowing 35 knots out on Loch Lochy.  We decided we'd done enough for the day!

Laggan Avenue
Tomorrow we hope to move onward, through Loch Lochy to the Western Reach.

Inverness and Caledonian Canal entry

Hi everyone,
We stayed at Inverness Marina for four days.  We had planned to spend only two days but crew injury (not serious) caused us to wait a while.  Despite the injury we enjoyed our stay and got to explore the city a little.

River Ness
Picturesque Scottish Architecture
Many Churches
Inverness marina is at the mouth of the River Ness.  Small cargo ships go a little way up river to the docks.  Beyond that is the city.  The Caledonian Canal entrance is a little further west along the Inverness Firth and it runs through the western part of the city.

River Ness (east) and Caledonian Canal (west)
It's worth noting that currents are very strong in Inverness Firth.  As we exited the river we needed full power to round the shoal which extends out into the Firth.  The north cardinal at its end was half-submerged!

Entering the sea lock was straight-forward.  We paid our money (UKP200) for the permit and motored on into Muirtown basin.  We lay at a pontoon berth there until the swing bridge was able to open.  This bridge is in Inverness so openings cause major traffic jams.  It is at the base of the "flight" of locks out of the city and into very nice countryside.  The lock flight seems to be a major tourist attraction.  It was weird looking down into a valley from the boat.

Clachnaharry Sea Lock
Entering the Muirtown Flight
All the opening bridges and locks in the canal are staffed.  This makes transiting the locks very straight-forward.  We had long bow and stern lines rigged through blocks with the tails led back to our main winches - this worked very well.

In the canal
Once at the top of the flight we were very quickly in a rural setting.  The mostly tree-lined canal is only 30-40m wide but at least 4m deep.  We spent our first night at Dochgarroch Lock, just short of Loch Ness.

While shutting down our systems I had a quick look at the AIS boats nearby.  300m along the canal was Taipan, an Australian boat we last saw in Bermuda and whose crew we first met during the Fremantle to Darwin Splash in 2002.  How amazing!  We walked along the canal to see them and spend a nice evening with them.

Zen Again at Dochgarroch Lock

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Hull to Inverness

Hi everyone,
At midday today we arrived in Inverness after a three day passage.  We had a wide range of conditions from near-gale to calm and sunshine to drizzle.  We were very lucky to get a weather window to sail here in one leg.  That said, it wasn't a perfect weather window!

Here is the plot of our track...

Zen Again Track
And here are the vital statistics...

  • Distances/Speeds
    • Route Distance = 350nm
    • Logged Distance = 380nm
    • GPS Distance = 377nm
    • Duration = 3 days 6 hours
    • Average Boat Speed = 4.9 knots
    • Average Ground Speed = 4.8 knots
  • Weather
    • Minimum Wind Speed = calm
    • Average Wind Speed = 16 knots
    • Maximum Wind Speed = 30G35 knots
    • Seas up to 1.5m
  • Engine
    • Total = 24 hours
    • Driving = 24 hours
    • Charging = 0 hours

Like our passage last year from the River Orwell to the Humber Estuary, this passage was hard work. This was mainly due to the strong westerly which became north-westerly before blowing itself out to a flat calm.  We then very had a nice easterly to take us from Peterhead to Inverness.

We departed Hull Marina at 0600 on Saturday.  We had a great sail down the estuary with the ebb giving us a boost with ground speeds up to 10 knots.  Once clear of the estuary we turned north and sailed inshore of the wind farms.

Down the Humber
As we continued north towards Flamborough Head the wind was veering from SW to WNW and increasing.  We gradually reefed down until we were sailing under double-reefed main and storm jib. There we quite a few fishing buoys to avoid along the way.

Approaching Flamborough Head
 We stayed 3 nm off Flamborough Head since the tide was against us.  The seas were lumpy and we were regularly taking waves on deck.  Eventually we got clear but found the best course we could lay was due north.  We were sailing "full and bye" - just cracked off a little to drive through the waves.  The original plan of hugging the coast wasn't going to work.  Like it or not we were aiming for Peterhead!  The wind was cold.  We wore four layers of clothing - shirt, fleece, Musto Snug and wet weather jacket - and were still cold.

The worst of the weather was on Saturday night when we were down to a half-furled storm jib and the double-reefed main.  Note that our main is small - equal to a first reef - so our double-reef is trisail size.  It was wet but fast.  Did I mention it was cold?  Very cold.  A hell of a "welcome back to sailing" after a year ashore.  Zen Again absolutely loved it.

By Sunday morning the winds were easing but continued to veer as they did so.  Eventually we had full sail set and were close hauled heading NNE.  By early afternoon the wind had died and we started up the donk.  The zig we did to the NNW is clear on the track.

The North Sea was glassed-out for most of the night with just a low, short N swell rolling by.  We motored until dawn on Monday.  We then were able to sail for several hours, passing Peterhead and rounding Rattray Head into the Moray Firth.  As soon as we bore away towards Inverness the wind was too light to stem the ebbing tide so the motor went back on.

Motoring over a glassed-out sea
On Monday night the E wind gradually built up to 15-18 knots and we were sailing again.  However we realised we needed to slow down to enter Inverness at the midday high tide on Tuesday.  As the wind built up we reefed down until eventually we were under bare poles to time our entry.  This reduced our speed to 3 knots for much of the night - explaining our poor average speed overall.

This morning (Tuesday) the air temperature increased markedly as a warm front came through with only a little light drizzle.  By mid-morning we were in T-shirts!  Motoring in to Inverness was quite spectacular with pretty towns and old forts on the foreshore and fields and forest on the hills behind.

Fort George
Chanonry Point
Passing the Meikle Mee shoals
Approaching Kessock Bridge

Zen Again rests
Zen Again is now in Inverness Marina.  We'll stay here for a couple of nights, catching up on sleep and exploring the city.  On Thursday we plan to enter the Caledonian Canal - only a mile from here.